Study says playground equipment safer than ever, but brain injuries still on the rise

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that while playground equipment is safer than ever before, more children are being treated for traumatic brain injuries.

Doctor Cindy Gellner, a pediatrician at the University of Utah Westridge Health Center, spoke about the kinds of injuries they generally see.

"So the main types of injuries I’m seeing are mainly broken bones, actually,” she said. “Broken collar bones, broken arms, things like that. Not so many broken legs, those are usually more on the skateboard type injuries."

While Gellner said she doesn't see a lot of head injuries, the new study says the rise could be attributed to the heightened awareness of brain injuries.

“There’s a lot of talk about traumatic brain injuries and concussions in sports with kids, with football, and things like that,” she said. “That's one of the reason headers are not allowed in soccer anymore for kids. So they can happen during any type of play activity, including on the playground."

Experts say monkey bars and swings are among the equipment most likely to cause injury.

"They're one of the most dangerous types of playground equipment, cause kids go flying off of them, and that's how they get hurt,” Gellner said.

In Salt Lake County, all 87 parks must meet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards.

“Everything has a standard, they call them play zones,” said Callie Birdsall, a spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation. “Everything has a guideline on how many feet it needs to be, the materials that the surface needs to be in the playground to make it safe for children, as well as head injury awareness, and the fall height, and the use zones that go into the playground. Everything has to be considered.”

On a month-to-month basis, certified playground safety instructors consider everything from the chips you see on the ground:

“Some of them are rubber mulch, some of them are rubber tiles, some of them have both,” Birdsall said. “We just, everything needs to not only be safe, but also ADA accessible.”

To the color of the slide:

“So the color of the slide matters, the materials that the playground is made of, as far as heat and as far as the durability as well—and everything even down to the nuts and bolts of how it's built, everything has to meet safety standards,” Bridsall said.

With playground equipment larger and safer than ever, doctors say the most important thing you can do is pay attention.

“So the big thing is, as a parent, kids will be kids, they will get hurt,” Gellner said. “But if you're there, and you're watching your child as they play, that's going to be the best way to prevent any injuries."

Salt Lake County has three new parks opening soon. Wheadon Farm in Draper will open this fall. Wardel Fields in Bluffdale and Lodestone in West Valley City are set to open next spring.